The Murphys Lay Down the Law
Oct. 12, 2005
By Corky Blake
At Lafayette College, everyone loves the Murphy brothers, even if their teammates sometimes can't tell the twins apart.
"They're two of my best friends, and they're always at my house," senior wide receiver Brandon Stanford said. "But I still get confused after four years. They're both similar but they're different."
"I didn't know anyone when I came here," said junior Torian Johnson, a starting safety from Largo, Fla. "But I started hanging with them right away and now they're two of my closest friends. Taj is the one who showed me the ropes."
Opposing offenses see double when they peer into the Leopards' secondary. Tye Murphy, No. 29, is a starting cornerback. Taj, No. 27 and few minutes younger than his brother, rotates at safety and is on the field in nickel packages.
Both Taj and Tye are listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds.
The Murphys were three-sport athletes at Hammond High School in Columbia, Md., playing football, basketball and running track.
The twins are held in high regard by teammates and coaches, who marvel at the Murphys' upbeat personalities, perseverance and maturity.
"They're a great example to our younger players to not get discouraged if you don't play right away," head coach Frank Tavani said. "They're always doing the right thing. They've both contributed so much to our program on and off the field. They're model student-athletes, whom I believe have identical GPAs over 3.0."
The Murphys' story didn't begin as a fairy tale.
Taj wanted to play basketball at La Salle but was passed over for another guard. Tye knew he was going to play college football because his high school coach, Bill Smith, told him so.
"I knew I was going to college to play football; Taj was 50-50," Tye said.
The Murphys were familiar with Lafayette assistants Bob Heffner and Matt Hachmann from the coaches' days at nearby University of Maryland, where they attended summer camps. The twins knew little about Lafayette once the recruiting process began.
Or, let's just say, Taj and Tye were too busy to explore what the college world had to offer them.
Besides participating in three varsity sports and playing AAU basketball, the Murphy's held after-school jobs. They also were responsible for many of the day-to-day duties at home.
"Coach Hachmann, who recruited us, would get so frustrated because he could never get us," Tye said. "We'd go to practice and then right to work. We said if you want to get us you better get us at school because we're gone after that."
Said Taj: "I think when we came to Lafayette we already had pretty good time management skills because we were juggling school, jobs, practices, AAU and taking care of our family. We were going year-round, but it taught us responsibility."
The Murphys didn't set out to be recruited as a two-for-one deal but it turned out that way. The final decision came down to Lafayette or nearby Towson. The Leopards won the Murphy sweepstakes due, in large part, to an attractive financial aid package.
Once in Easton, the Murphys were no longer big men on campus. They were just two members in a talented freshman class trying to impress cranky coaches.
"I think it was a little more frustrating for me than Tye because I'm more hot-headed and I had to be calmed down," Taj said. "At our high school, everyone knew Taj and Tye were the guys. Now, we're three hours away from home and we're small fish in a big pond."
"Both of us didn't see the field until we were sophomores," Tye said. "It was hard because we weren't playing and we were used to playing three sports and always being on the field. At least we had practice to fall back on."
The Murphys and their fellow freshmen became a band of brothers. They cite two friends - tailback Alfred Belton and linebacker Dion Witherspoon - who also checked their egos, resisted transferring, and now are prime contributors as seniors.
"We all had hard times, but we're a family," Tye said. "Alfred went through so much here, but we wouldn't let him leave. `Spoon' went through a lot, too, because back home he was the man, but here he was playing behind (two-year captain) Wes Erbe."
The Murphys, who relied on their athletic ability in high school, learned to play within defensive coordinator John Loose's system. The transition was more difficult for Taj at safety than Tye at cornerback.
"I was lost; I was trying too hard," Taj said.
Slowly, Taj became a student of the game. He's become a coach on the field for Loose, who also tutors the safeties.
"Taj can look at an offense and call the play out before it happens," Tye said. "He can play any position back there (secondary). At cornerback, I really just have to worry about one person."
"It's a testament to Coach Loose because he spends a lot of time with the safeties," Taj said. "He drills it into our heads."
Taj, a government and law major who hopes to attend Howard University Law School, said he might just have to pass along all this knowledge he's attained.
"When I get home I think I'm going to ask Coach Smith if he'll give me a whirl with the DBs," Taj said with a laugh.
Tye is a biology major and considering pharmacy school. He figures he'll also find his way back to the Washington, D.C. area after graduation.
"It's hard to separate us," Taj said. "I know I'm going to have to find a rec league to play in because I have too much energy to just stop playing."
Until then, the Murphys are focused on helping the Leopards repeat as Patriot League champions. They already own wins over Fordham and Georgetown have been a major part why Lafayette has yielded just two touchdowns in those victories.
Their teammates know they can be counted on each Saturday.
"I was going through Kirby (Sports Center) on a Monday night around 10 o'clock. It was our day off. I looked into the weight room and there's Taj working out," Stanford said. "They might be the most dedicated players on the team."
There also are no more loyal fans of the Lafayette basketball teams than the Murphys. They never miss a game when they're on campus.
"Especially the women's team," Taj said, "but that's something we were taught in high school. Coach Smith said it was important to support our school's other teams because they were there supporting us on Friday nights."
The interview outside the McCracken Field House was almost over when the Murphys mulled over one final question: Have they ever switched numbers in practice to fool the coaches or their teammates?
"No, I don't think we could get away with it," Taj said.
"Coach Loose noticed right away when we were freshmen that we run differently and stand differently on the field," Tye said. "Coach doesn't even need us to be wearing our uniforms to tell us apart.
"Now, the Bloom twins (Craig and Keith) I don't know how anyone can tell them apart. We just call them offensive Bloom and defensive Bloom."
Yes, the Murphys are different in many ways, but it was Lafayette's fortune to recognize their similarities in order to secure both their services for four years.
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